THE BLOG
08/26/2014 09:42 am ET Updated Oct 26, 2014

Building a Healthier Life for Our Niños

By: María Guerra

As a fitness trainer and as a person who is daily striving to motivate and encourage people to be physically active and live a healthier lifestyle, I can't help but feel my heart break just a little more each time I see an obese child and learn that these children are at higher risk for developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes but are also at increased risk for heart disease, all of which, until now, had been typically associated with adulthood. According to a recent research by the American Heart Association, Hispanic pre-school age children are four times more likely to be obese, compared to non-Hispanic white children.

When parents approach me to ask for help with their overweight children, I first have to address the parents' lifestyle. The tough-love truth is, children are not doing the grocery shopping or the cooking at home and should not be ordering their own meals when out at a restaurant. This is the adults' responsibility and while it may require willpower and strength of character to consistently support and encourage your children to opt for healthier choices, their lives may very well depend on it. Another important factor to remember is that children want to emulate their parents. Therefore, parents need to set the example by choosing healthy options at meal time and even exercising in front of them - or better yet with them. Finally, be positive about the healthy changes in the home - don't position healthy choices as a punishment but rather something the entire family can come together around. For example, have your children join you in the kitchen to prepare the meals, which will then make them more likely to enjoy their new healthier foods. Also, get them more involved in physical fitness by signing them up for activities they enjoy such as dance classes, martial arts and/or sports.

September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month and the American Heart Association is prepared to guide you and your family towards a healthier lifestyle!

In an endeavor to end childhood obesity and help families live healthier lives, AHA has initiated the EmpowerMEnt Challenge throughout the month of September. The challenge includes weekly goals and simple tips that are fun, easy to follow and family budget friendly.

Here's a breakdown of the challenge, week-by-week:
• Week 1: Empower your Cart. See how much you can boost your fruit and vegetable intake this week. You might be surprised by how many will fit into your grocery cart. Try a scavenger hunt in the store. See how many fruits and veggies your kids can find in 15 minutes.

• Week 2: Empower your Glass. This week is about reducing sugar-sweetened beverages. Did you know sodas are one of the leading contributors to obesity? Help your kids start a healthy habit early by reaching for water first (and see if your grocery bill drops!).

• Week 3: Empower your Taste. This week is about sodium reduction. That's important because most people have more than double the amount of sodium (or salt) their bodies need - which increases chances of high blood pressure, stroke, heart disease and other problems. You can reduce the sodium you eat by comparing labels of similar products and choosing the one with less sodium, and using herbs, spices, citrus juices, and vinegars instead of salt to add flavor to foods.

• Week 4: Empower your Movement. This week's challenge is simple: Get moving! You don't need to put on a perfect gym outfit and drive all the way across town. Just turn off the TV, grab the kids and get active.

Take the challenge by going to www.heart.org/healthykids and inspire your hijos to live a healthier lifestyle. Healthy eating habits start en casa and they start with you! #EsPorLaVida

Fitness trainer María Guerra is a volunteer national spokesperson for the American Heart Association's Go Red Por Tu Corazón movement.

Twitter: @mariasimontv
www.bodybymaria.com